Andy Dilks, Staff Writer
Ever since the advent of the Neolithic Revolution some 10,000 years B.C., elements of mankind have increasingly strove to carve up, control and dominate the land, creating an increasingly stratified social hierarchy in which those at the top use force and coercion to dictate to the masses and ensure their subjugation. Whether this has manifested itself as authoritarian dictatorships or the so-called “liberal democracies” of the modern world (a term which is rapidly losing any semblance of credibility in an age of corrupt, self-serving plutocracies), the essential dynamic has remained.
Those who seek to live outside these systems of control – which went into overdrive upon the advent of our mastery of agriculture, only to accelerate a thousandfold in the age of industry and technological advance – have found themselves increasingly embattled as “civilization” has endlessly expanded. The nomadic traditions of old – gone today in all but the most remote corners of the planet – and the hunter-gatherer tribes which find themselves under threat as corporate interests seek to exploit the rainforests of the world seem like the last vestiges of a way of life that has become all but extinct.
Almost – but not quite.
While indigenous tribes still remain scattered around the world, numerous examples of people in the western world seeking to get off the grid, free from the imposed control of government, make it clear that the impetus is one felt throughout humanity. While governments in the western world increasingly ramp up authoritarian measures of control at the same time as “austerity” denies more and more people basic fundamental necessities to a comfortable and productive life, that desire to escape from the system is only likely to increase.
While leaving behind taxes, utility bills, traffic jams and all the other grinding aspects of the modern world might sound like an appealing prospect, the realities of living off the grid are clearly complex. Irishman Mark Boyle lived with no income, no bank balance and no spending and his story outlines some of the problems to contend with. After managing an organic food company for some time, he decided to remove himself from the consumer loop. With a diet which consisted primarily of food crops, supplemented with foraging, bartering and food going to waste, Boyle lived in a caravan from Freecycle, recycled his own “humanure” and used cuttlefish bone and fennel seeds as improvised toothbrush and paste and commuted on a bike.
Speaking of his experiences and the reactions to them, he said, “Many people label me an anti-capitalist. Whilst I do believe capitalism is fundamentally flawed, requiring infinite growth on a finite planet, I am not anti-anything. I am pro-nature, pro-community and pro-happiness. And that’s the thing I don’t get – if all this consumerism and environmental destruction brought happiness, it would make some sense. But all the key indicators of unhappiness – depression, crime, mental illness, obesity, suicide and so on are on the increase. More money it seems, does not equate to more happiness.”
Of course, you don’t have to go it alone if you want to get off the grid, and there are countless examples of self-sustained communities being set up around the world. In Britain, such communities can be found from Devon all the way up to Scotland – both urban and rural, these are rapidly increasing in numbers, with many more appearing along Britain’s waterways as people take to their nattowboats and live cheaply amidst the ultra-expensive flats and apartments of London and elsewhere. The 100,000 people in the UK living off the grid are dwarfed in numbers by America, where an estimated 1 million are thought to have bugged out from the system.
Meanwhile in Greece, where IMF-imposed austerity has caused considerable damage to the country’s economy, one example of a community which has chosen to extricate itself from the daily grind can be found on the slopes of Mount Telaithrion on the island of Evia, where a self-reliant community has been established. Co-founder Apostolos Sianos said of the project, “The crisis or the austerity measures doesn’t actually affect you because you create your life and your future everyday, it has nothing to do with the outside circle. It may (have) affected us, but only in a good way because more and more people are willing to be self-sufficient and sustainable, so they contact us, and more and more people after the crisis want to get involved.”
While this all bodes well for a future in which more and more people follow the incredible examples already set by thousands of others, the reaction from the authorities raises serious concerns as to how much longer those in positions of power will tolerate such moves. In Florida, a court effectively ruled in February 2014 that living off the grid was illegal – in a ruling against Robin Speronis, the judge declared that she was required to hook her home up to the city’s water system, regardless of whether or not she used it.
A far more disturbing case of state intervention occurred last month, when Pennsylvanian woman Fatima Doumbouya had her perfectly healthy baby taken away from her by doctors simply because she gave birth at home. Without any authorization from the parents, the baby was then transferred to another hospital where the baby was subjected to tests, again without the parents’ permission. This kind of heavy-handed state intervention, with the involvement of police officers (and thus the inherent threat of force for non-cooperation) is a worrying indication of the lengths the authorities will go to in order to ensure that individuals are penalized for setting precedents that others may choose to follow.
As a species, we’re still some way off from living under a total control grid in which our every actions are observed and controlled by those in power, but clearly the grid is becoming more all-consuming. Opting out is still an option we can choose for the time being, but sadly it may become a thing of the past.
About the Author
Andrew Dilks writes on culture and politics at orwellwasright.co.uk. He is the author of Goliath and Flow. His newest book Prehistoric Highs: Mind-Altering Plants and the Birth of Civilization will be available in 2014.
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